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BJP’s promise of free COVID vaccine for Bihar marks the beginning of new era of appeasement politics in India?


PATNA: BJP, which is supremely confident of winning the crucial Bihar assembly election 2020 under Nitish Kumar’s leadership, on Thursday released its election manifesto, which promises free COVID-19 vaccine for all and 19 lakh jobs in next five years.

BJP’s ‘Sankalp Patra’ or the ‘Vision Document’ was released by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sithraman, who said that free COVID-19 vaccine will be provided to all in Bihar once it has been cleared by the ICMR. In an apparent bid to reach out to the youths in Bihar, the saffron party has promised 19 lakh jobs in the next five years and gave an assurance to the farmers that it bring lentils under the MSP regime.

“The NDA government in Bihar has set an example before the country in the fight against corona. It’s our resolve that once the vaccine against the coronavirus has been cleared by the ICMR, we will make it available to the people of Bihar free of cost,” the BJP manifesto said. 

 

 

Interestingly, this has also been one of the top agenda in the BJP’s election document. Clearly, with the tagline of ‘BJP hai to bharosa hai’, the saffron leadership is trying to connect with the voters of Bihar while relying upon the trust enjoyed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the masses by virtue of pro-people measures like the ‘Jan Dhan’ scheme and the ‘Ujjwala Yojana’.

Speaking about the coronavirus vaccine, the FM said India has reached a point where it is on the verge of producing three vaccines after different stages of the trial. “When we reach the stage where scientists give clearance for large-scale production of the vaccine, we will make it available to the people of Bihar free of cost,” she said.

However, BJP promise of free COVID-19 vaccines for Biharis has drawn the ire of its main political adversaries, who have criticised the party for trying to take political mileage from a global pandemic. The BJP’s critics have accused the party of playing with people’s sentiments and attempting to capitalise on the ‘fear’ among the masses regarding the deadly coronavirus disease.

Opposition parties like the RJD, Congress, AAP etc have sought to know from BP if it only cares about those in Bihar or is it because of assembly election that Bihar has suddenly become its top priority. What about people in other states and Union Territories, who are also eagerly waiting for the COOVID-19 vaccine, they seem to know. 

The opposition political parties and their leaders have called it “appalling cynicism”, “blatant populism”, and questioned what will happen in non-BJP-ruled states. “The Government of India announced India’s Covid access strategy. Kindly refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when will you get it, along with a hoard of false promises,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted soon after the announcement, taking a dig at the BJP.

Gandhi’s party colleague Shashi Tharoor called Sitharaman’s announcement an “appalling cynicism”, as he questioned whether the Election Commission would rap her and the government on the knuckles. Meanwhile, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted, “There is so much wrong with this blatant populism that shamefully exploits COVID fears.”

Attacking the BJP, Congress national spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also said, “On the migrant workers’ crisis, Bihar CM & Deputy CM said they won’t let Biharis enter. PM said vaccine can’t possibly be made before a year. 1000 Biharis died due to COVID. Do central ministers care? They’re deriding the Biharis.’’

On the other hand, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said, “BJP doesn’t have a face for Bihar polls. Finance Minister had to come to release the vision document. Since she’s here, Sitharaman Ji should first tell why she never gave a special package & special state status to Bihar.”

The RJD leader, who according to latest opinion polls is fast closing the gap between him and Nitish Kumar, said this when asked to comment on BJP’s election manifesto and the tall promises made by the party.

Taking a dig at the BJP, DCW chief Swati Maliwal tweeted, “BJP will prove free vaccines only in poll-bound states. So, the remaining 125 cr people in other states should wait till elections for the BJO to provide free vaccines.’’

All this also raises a pertinent question if it is the beginning of a new era of appeasement politics in India. Political parties in the country have long accused each other of ‘appeasement’ politics for political gains, but a leading political party making global medical emergency and health crisis its main poll plank – can this be justified?

One needs to understand that Bihar is a politically sensitive state. Here people cannot be fobbed off with empty promises. Claims made by parties will certainly be weighed against their past track record. This is where the BJP needs to score and the same yardsticks apply to it as well.

The BJP has exuded confidence that it can deliver on its promises. “In the last six years, all the programmes announced by the prime minister have been implemented, be it electrification of villages, gas cylinders for poor women or financial inclusion of all citizens by getting accounts opened in their name in banks,” the FM asserted in her press briefing.

The highlights of the party’s vision document, displayed through a powerpoint presentation, include the recruitment of three lakh teachers in primary, secondary and higher educational institutions. The party also proposed to develop the state, which has so far remained largely untouched by the boom in information technology, into an IT hub holding out the promise of five lakh jobs in the sector. The manifesto also said a large number of people will be provided employment in the health sector which is in for a major facelift through projects like the AIIMS at Darbhanga.

In support of the BJP’s election manifesto, FM Sitharaman said, “Our promises are backed by credibility. Compare the situation in Bihar between 1990 and 2005 (when the RJD was in power) with the changes that occurred after we took over. You will get a clear picture.”

The three-phase assembly elections in Bihar will begin from October 28 and the results will be announced on November 10. So, it’s just a matter of few days to know if voters in Bihar will go will BJP for free COVID vaccine or reject it as a hollow promise made just to win elections. 

 

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